On Oct. 28, 2007, Jason Moran, then 32, walked out alone onto the dimly lit stage of Washington’s Lisner Auditorium. On the overhead screen, black-and-white video flickered with still photos from Thelonious Monk’s rehearsals for his legendary 1959 Town Hall concert. As Moran sat down at the grand piano onstage, he placed a pair of black-padded headphones over his ears and the PA played Monk’s Town Hall Concert version of the tune “Thelonious.”
The same music was obviously coursing through Moran’s earmuffs, for he began playing along with the recording, not following the original so much as responding to it with improvised counterpoint at every turn, altering not only the harmony but the angular melody and rhythm as well. It was as if Moran were imagining what Monk might have sounded like had he lived to hear David Murray and Public Enemy.